“I look forward again to coaching to try to win rather than trying to avoid being defeated.”—John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach, after his fifth (of ten) national titles.
For our family Christmas card this year, we shared a picture of us after summiting Mt. Princeton—an exhilarating experience! While the ascent was challenging, it was only on the long descent—having run out of water!—that we discovered an unanticipated challenge of the ascent!
As you reflect on your 2013, you may have had a great ascent. What got you there as a business owner was your resolve, your discipline, your tenacity. Congratulations!
But, what about the descent? What happens after you achieved either a major waypoint or a major transition in your business? You may discover that the very strengths that allowed you to focus well on the ascent now hinder you. While trying to hold on to not losing the exhilaration of the ascent…you may discover you are ill-equipped for the descent.
As a UCLA graduate, I have always admired basketball coach John Wooden not only as a remarkable coach, but as an amazing human being (CLICK HERE for a related post).
What got me thinking of this notion of descent was Wooden’s telling comment after winning four national basketball championships. Wooden said,“ I’ve always said I wish my really good friends in coaching to win a national championship. And those I don’t think highly of, I wish they would win several.”
What was it about the view from the top that Wooden saw? He realized that to re-summit was a challenge of character and called forth two qualities that are equally essential in owning a business. (His teams succeeded in doing another 5 times over 12 years in the 1960s and 1970s).
Wooden was well-known for being a serious follower of Jesus Christ. There is an assumption that such a person would be intolerant of other faiths. On a road trip between Columbus and South Bend, Lew Alcindor—now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (“noble servant of the powerful One”)—was then a senior center. He shared the story of his conversion to Sunni Islam with a devout Christian teammate named Patterson. Their heated exchange drew in other teammates and became a meeting of minds, and an unexpected bonding of hearts as a Jewish and a Catholic teammate joined in the discussion; Wooden listened in.
What happened in that discussion? Rather than dividing the team over religious differences, that heated spiritual conversation galvanized them into a more deeply connected and effective team. They won both of those road games against 13th-ranked Ohio State and 5th-ranked Notre Dame.
We would be equally surprised at Wooden’s reaction to Abdul-Jabbar. Of Wooden’s reaction Abdul-Jabbar said, “[Coach Wooden] was curious to know what Islam was all about and really showed me the utmost respect [for] making my own choices.”
Respect for differing perspectives—especially deeply held ones–is that first foundational character trait we need to bring to our descents.
Later that season during the weekend the 1969 NCAA tournament began, the Bruins found that in this fourth quest for a national title they had a succumbed to a mindset of wanting to “get it over” rather than win. Wooden found out the hard way that that attitude started with him.
In the semifinal game of the tournament, Wooden benched fifth year senior Sweek for missing a key defensive assignment. After they had won the game, Wooden came into the locker room so livid at Sweek that the veins in his head were bulging. Sweek then taunted Wooden with sarcastic jibes that Wooden thought he was “always right.” Wooden was so outraged that the assistant coaches had to keep him from Sweek.
The result? The next day at the team meeting, Wooden began by commending their team for what they did well in getting to the championship game. Then he brought Sweek up to the front of the room and shook hands with him and reinstated him as the starter for the final game. UCLA went on to beat Purdue 92 to 72 for their fourth national basketball title.
What had Wooden demonstrated? Appropriate flexibility. Years later Sweek said,
He was able to be flexible enough to change his thinking during the craziness of the ‘60s. He was such a morally upright person. He could hear and he would listen. Despite his background, he was willing to change.
- Where do you need to hold your ground of resolve?
- Where do you, as a business owner, need to demonstrate appropriate flexibility?
This post was inspired by Sports Illustrated, “The Wizard and the Giant”, [p. 57, 1/12/14]